Thursday, September 07, 2006

Monster truck

A monster truck is an automobile, typically a pickup truck, which has been modified or purpose built with extremely large wheels and suspension. They are used for popular entertainment and in some cases they are featured alongside Motocross races, mud bogging, tractor pulls and car-eating robots.

Typically, a monster truck show involves the truck crushing smaller vehicles beneath its huge tires. These trucks can run up and over most man-made barriers, so they are equipped with remote shut-off switches, called the Remote Ignition Interuptor (RII), to help prevent an accident if the driver loses control at any time. At some events, only one truck is on the course at a time, while most feature two drivers racing each other on symmetrical tracks, with the losing driver eliminated in tournament fashion.
In recent years, many monster truck competitions have ended with a "freestyle" event. Somewhat akin to figure skating with giant trucks, drivers are free to select their own course around the track and its obstacles. Drivers will often try a 'Donut', also called a Cyclone, which involves spinning the truck in a high speed circle, and maybe even deliberately rolling the truck over. Additional items for the drivers to crush - usually including a mobile home - are frequently placed on the track specifically for the freestyle event.

In the late 1970s, modified pickup trucks were becoming popular and the sports of mud bogging and truck pulling were gaining in popularity. Several truck owners had created lifted trucks to compete in such events, and soon competition to hold the title of "biggest truck" developed. The trucks which garnered the most national attention were Jeff and Steve Dane's Awesome Kong, Bob Chandler's Bigfoot, and Fred Shafer and Jack Willman Sr.'s Bear Foot. At the time, the largest tires the trucks were running were 48 inches in diameter.

Sometime in the late 1970s, the Dane brothers began using Awesome Kong to drive over automobiles at county fairs, making Awesome Kong officially the first truck to crush cars in front of an audience. Unaware of this, Chandler drove Bigfoot over a pair of cars in a field as a test of the truck's ability, and filmed it to use as a promotional tool in his four wheel drive performance shop. An event promoter saw the video of the car crush and asked Chandler to do it in front of a crowd. Initially hesitant, Chandler eventually caved in. After some smaller shows, Chandler performed the feat in the Pontiac Silverdome in 1982. At this show, Chandler also debuted a new version of Bigfoot with 66 inch diameter tires. The event was a major success and launched Bigfoot as the first true "monster truck", under the current definition. The term "monster truck" was also coined at this time, reportedly by United States Hot Rod Association founder Bob George.

Both Awesome Kong and Bear Foot followed Bigfoot to 66 inch diameter tires, and soon other monster trucks, such as King Krunch, USA-1, and Virginia Giant were being constructed. These early trucks were built off of stock chassis which were heavily reinforced, used leaf spring suspension, a stock body, and heavy military axles to support the tires. As a result, the trucks were incredibly heavy (usually 13,000 to 20,000 lb.) and most times had to crawl up onto the cars.

For most of the early 1980s, monster trucks performed primarily exhibitions as a side show to truck pulling or mud bogging events. In 1985, major promoters, such as the USHRA and TNT Motorsports, began racing monster trucks on a regular basis. The races, as they are today, were in the form of single elimination drag races, held over a course littered with obstacles. The change to racing eventually led truck owners to begin building lighter trucks, with more power. The establishment of TNT's first-ever monster truck points championship in 1988 expedited the process and found teams beginning to use straight-rail frames, fiberglass bodies, and lighter axle components to shave weight and gain speed.

In 1988, to standardize rules for truck construction, teams formed the Monster Truck Racing Association (MTRA). The MTRA created standards for several performance and safety features. The organization still plays a major role in the sport's development to this day.
With racing taking precedence, several teams began to think in new ways as to how the trucks could be built. In 1988, Jack Willman Sr., now with his own truck, Taurus, built a new truck which used a four-link suspension system and large coil springs, and that weighed in at close to 9,000 lb. The following year, another coil sprung truck, Equalizer debuted. The ultimate coup de grâce, however, came from Chandler, who's Bigfoot VIII featured a Baja 1000 inspired full tubular chassis and a long-travel suspension using nitrogen compression shock absorbers to cushion the landings. The truck revolutionized how monster trucks were built, and within a few years most top level teams built similar vehicles.

In 1991, TNT was bought out by USHRA and their points series were merged. The Special Events championship began to grow in popularity with teams as it had open qualifying spots which the invite-only USHRA championship did not have. The Special Events series lost its Pendaliner sponsorship in 1996, but the series is still running. The short-lived ProMT series started in 2000.

Although racing was dominant as a competition, USHRA events began having freestyle exhibitions as early as 1993. These exhibitions were developed as drivers, notably Dennis Anderson of the extremely popular Grave Digger, began asking for time to come out and perform if they lost in early rounds of racing. Promoters began to notice the popularity of freestyle among fans, and in 2000 USHRA began holding freestyle as a judged competition at events, and now even awards a freestyle championship.
A typical track for arena monster truck shows. The cars have ramps on one side for racing and are left bare on the other side for freestyle. The jumps around the perimeter are for ATV races.
Today, USHRA's Monster Jam series is the most popular series, with trucks like Grave Digger, Maximum Destruction, and Bounty Hunter. Bigfoot often runs with Checkered Flag Productions, which is the second largest promoter of events, and also runs in the Monsters of Destruction series. Other series such as the Monster Nationals, AMP Live Events, Chris Arel Motorsports, Southern Monster Truck Showdown and Special Events all also hold major events. Monster truck events remain extremely popular, especially in major markets throughout North America and Europe, including New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, United Kingdom, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Zurich and Milano. They are the second biggest form of touring family entertainment shows in these regions, behind Disney's touring ice shows.

Truck design
A modern monster truck is more of a scaled up, four wheel drive dune buggy. As such, they generally aren't actual "trucks" and only maintain their name due to the common style of fiberglass bodies used on the vehicles. Trucks now have custom built tubular chassis, with four-link suspensions to provide up to four feet of travel. Mounted just behind the driver on most trucks are the engines, which are typically supercharged, run on methanol, and have displacement well upwards of 500 cubic inches. Axles are typically out of either heavy-duty military trucks or road vehicles like school buses, and are modified to have a planetary gear reduction at the hub to help turn the tires. All trucks have hydraulic steering in both the front and the rear (four wheel steering), with the front wheels controlled by the steering wheel and the rear wheels by a toggle switch. The tires are typically "Terra" tires used on fertilizer spreaders, and have measurements of 66"x43"x25". Most trucks utilize a modified automatic transmission, such as a Turbo 400, Powerglide, or C-6. Most of these transmissions are heavily modified with transbrakes, manual valve bodies, and heavy duty gear sets, and are commonly air-shifted. Another popular transmission in monster trucks is the Lenco, a transmission that dates back to drag racing. Trucks running a Lenco use a slipper clutch off the line (vehicles with the Lencodrive transmission use a torque converter), are usually used in two-speed or three speed form, and are usually air-shifted.

The trucks have many safety features, several required just to run in the small arenas that the trucks frequent. The aforementioned RII is one of three kill switches on each truck, the other two being one within the driver's reach in the cab, and another at the rear of the truck so that the engine may be shut off in the event of a rollover. Drivers sit in the center of the cab for visibility, and also have clear floorboards to see where they are going when the truck's front wheels are in the air. Drivers are required to wear firesuits, safety harnesses, helmets, and head and neck restraints. Most moving parts on the truck are also shielded, and high pressure components have restraining straps, both in case of an explosion.

Popular culture
Because of their initial popularity in conjunction with tractor pulls and mud bogs, monster trucks are often portrayed as being popular solely among rednecks. While the trucks are indeed popular in the rural areas of the United States, they are also becoming popular in major cities, and recent promotion of the trucks has been to lead them away from the "redneck" image.
Monster trucks are also often portrayed as being a form of motorized professional wrestling. Commonly cited evidence is the use of names for the trucks, rather than numbers and sponsors, and often accusations of rigged races, as some trucks (including Bigfoot and Grave Digger) are seen as winning more often in order to please the crowd. However, promoters have widely denied rigging races, and many shows often feature evidence to the contrary when the unpredictable happens. Perhaps more than the redneck stereotype, the pro-wrestling stereotype is hated among drivers and teams, who feel they are unfairly disrespected despite their work to compete at a high level, and among fans who would like to see the sport treated by the media as NASCAR is currently. However, as monster truck events do feature a considerably more show-like atmosphere than most other motorsports, the events can be considered a form of "sports entertainment".
The advertising of monster truck events has also become a part of popular culture. A familiar 1980s series of radio commercials for various monster truck races featured a screaming announcer (most famously, Larry "Supermouth" Huffman), blaring rock background music, and heavy use of reverb, and usually began each spot with "Sunday!!! Sunday!!! Sunday!!!", and ending with "BE THERE!!!!!!". Although commonly associated with monster trucks, the ads were conceived in the 1960s for funny car match races at drag strips. As some promoters of those events also became promoters for monster truck events, the ads were retooled to fit the monster trucks. The ads have been frequently parodied in other advertisements.


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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Future of the car

The future of the car is a controversial topic, with some advocates arguing that the car has no future, and others that the car will in the future supplant most other forms of transport.
There are significant challenges in the near future to continued use of the car:
• Petroleum refining and car use are major factors in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
• 50-70% of US oil production is consumed by cars and trucks. This is more due to the size, weight, shape and power of conventional cars than to necessity (See Messerschmitt KR200).
• Cars are one of the most dangerous forms of transport. 1 million people die each year in car accidents worldwide.
• Increasing population and prosperity tends to increase traffic congestion.
Technological advances
There are many possible advances in technology that could influence the future of the car (NB: This section is most controversial. Please see the discussion.):
Energy sources
• Hybrid cars and more advanced combustion engines (eg. gas turbines) will improve fuel efficiency. Toyota intends to have hybrid versions for all its models by 2012, including the hybrid Toyota Prius which is already available. Ford intends to make five hybrids available by 2008. Both Ford and GM have also begun to develop hybrid SUV's.
• Utilisation of waste heat from the engine as useful mechanical energy through exhaust powered steam, stirling engines, thermal diodes or etc..
• Dualmode or cars able to platoon that use relatively small electric motors and fuel supplies or battery reserves for door-to-door service off electrically powered arteries.
• Battery electric vehicles have the potential of using locally available sustainable energy resources while at the same time reducing vehicle energy requirements by 1/2 to 1/4 when using batteries to store electricity.
• Hydrogen cars could eventually be produced that use sustainable energy resources and water. The resulting hydrogen could be burnt in an engine or converted back into electricity by a fuel cell and its support systems instead of a battery to be powered as an electric vehicle. Due to the additional conversion losses and added distribution and support logistics overall efficiency is currently not as good as current ICE ("internal combustion engine") vehicles. Rather it is far simpler and more efficient (by a factor of three to six by some estimates) to transmit locally available sustainable electricity directly into the batteries of a batery electric vehicle.
• Alternative fuels are being proposed : alcohol fuel, water (see hydrogen fuel), highly compressed air (see air car), garbage, hemp oil, magnetism, solar power, Tesla electric cars (with no car batteries), and high speed electric cars (freeway-capable).

• Duraluminum, fiberglass, carbon fiber, and carbon nanotubes may totally replace all steel in cars (potentially improving lightness and strength).
• Nanotechnology-enhanced cars will be stronger than steel which can help to reduce weight and better protect passengers.

• E911-compliant mobile phones required in the US by 2006 can be used to coordinate ridesharing.
• Improvements to hands-free technology will increase driver safety.
• Radio technology (DSRC or wireless vehicle safety communications) will permit on-board collision warnings.
• Traffic lights will continue to become smarter. This could include short range milimeter band radar, neural network processors and sharing wireless networks with the cars.
• The smart car, intelligent car and driverless car making driving easier and safer.
• Cars linking up to form platoons and car-trains.
• Dualmode cars platooning on a guideways or a Personal Rapid Transit system, such as ULTra, for increased speed, safety and economy.
• Bionic cars.
• The potential application of magnetic levitation to transportation has been known since the 19th century and been implemented in numerous magnetic levitation trains. Although trains with fixed guideways are not cars, since cars are somewhat smaller they could be loaded onto trains to move them rapidly across country for long distances. This would obviously require a committed national infrastructure construction effort. Due to their lack of rolling friction and smooth ride they can travel much faster than conventional trains. While high speeds dramatically increase aerodynamic drag, its small frontal with only one lead car area makes it less of a factor than with cars. Laminar flow losses are insubstantial, and evacuating the atmosphere in a tunnel would nearly eliminate both of these losses and allow for supersonic speeds.
• Although flying cars have been proposed for decades, cost and air traffic control issues have so far prevented mass use of private aircraft. Energy consumption is also considerably greater for current aircraft than typical cars. Though NASA is said to be currently working on a system whereby everyone who intends to fly would have his own personal air space.
• Future cars may include a heads-up display projecting information onto the windshield to supplement or replace the dashboard. See Heads-Up Display for details.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Classic car

Classic car is a term frequently used to describe an older car, but the exact meaning is subject to serious differences in opinion. One school, the broader "antique car club" faction, are very inclusive. Almost any older car in fine condition becomes a classic. The other extreme are the "Concours d'Elegance" supporters, such as the CCCA, who think that only a few thousand "Classic Era Motor Cars" even exist in good condition. They consider nothing newer than 1948 to qualify.

25 years is generally considered a good cut-off age for such terms because it's extremely rare for a vehicle that old to still be owned or used without special consideration for its classic status — by 25 years old, a car will have exceeded its design life by some considerable margin, 10-15 years being the norm barring accidental loss. It will probably need significant maintenance to keep running, and many parts will be hard to obtain through the usual channels. Thus, a non-enthusiast will sensibly conclude that it is not feasible to continue using a car that old for regular driving.

This is not to say that an enthusiast of classic cars might not drive such an old vehicle daily, but that enthusiast will be willing to live with the greater difficulty of so doing or the high cost of restoring the vehicle to reliable condition. Another reason to drive classic cars is that alternatives are hard to come by, as is the case in Cuba (at least in part due to the United States embargo against Cuba). As a result, pre-revolution (pre-1959) cars are the standard, rather than an exception in Cuba. These are generally referred to as yank tanks or maquinas.

Classic Car Club of America Definition
The Classic Car Club of America "claims" to have invented the term Classic car and thus they believe that the true definition of the term is "theirs". According to the CCCA:
A CCCA Classic is a "fine" or "distinctive" automobile, either American or foreign built, produced between 1925 and 1948. Generally, a Classic was high-priced when new and was built in limited quantities. Other factors, including engine displacement, custom coachwork and luxury accessories, such as power brakes, power clutch, and "one-shot" or automatic lubrication systems, help determine whether a car is considered to be a Classic.
The Club keeps an exhaustive list of the vehicles they consider Classics, and while any member may petition for a vehicle to join the list, such applications are carefully scrutinised and rarely is a new vehicle type admitted.
This rather exclusive definition of a classic car is by no means universally followed, however, and this is acknowledged by the CCCA: while they still maintain the true definition of 'classic car' is theirs, they generally use terms such as CCCA Classic or the trademarked Full Classic to avoid confusion.

Other Definitions

United States Legal Definition
Legally, most states have time-based rules for the definition of "classic" for purposes such as antique vehicle registration; for example, Pennsylvania defines it as "A motor vehicle, but not a reproduction thereof, manufactured at least 15 years prior to the current year which has been maintained in or restored to a condition which is substantially in conformity with manufacturer specifications and appearance."

Antique Automobile Club of America
Alternate usage fundamentally equates Classic car with the definition of antique car as used by the antique Automobile Club of America who define an Antique car as "anything" over 25 years old. Thus, in this "broader usage" any car over 25 years old can be called a 'classic car'.

United Kingdom
There is no fixed definition of a Classic car. Two taxation issues do impact however, leading to some people using them as cut off dates. All cars first registered before 1 January 1973 are free from paying the annual vehicle excise duty. The government Revenue and Customs define a classic car for company taxation purposes as being over 15 years old and having a value in excess of £15,000.

Classic Car Styling
There was a world wide sea-change in styling in the immediate years after the end of World War II. The 1949 Ford, for example, utterly changed the traditional discrete "replaceable" fender treatment and the radiator "semi-functional" look. From this point on, automobiles of all kinds became "rounded boxes", in basic plan. The CCCA term, "Classic Car" has been confined to "the functionally traditional designs of the earlier period" (mostly pre-war). They tended to have "removable", fenders, trunk, headlights, and a usual vertical grill treatment. In a large vehicle, such as a Duesenberg or Pierce Arrow or in a smaller form, the MG TC, with traditional lines, might typify the "CCCA" term. Since some antique car owners are "investors" it serves the purposes of those clubs to classify a "new look" car as a classic. Thus, it may be a "classic" example of a later period, but not a car from the "Classic period of Design", in the opinion of the traditionalist CCCA faction. Those of the "Antique Car", school of thought would include a 1980 "Anything", that is "clean".


Antique car

An antique car is generally defined as a car over 25 years of age, this being the definition used by the Antique Automobile Club of America and many other organisations worldwide. However, the legal definition for the purpose of antique vehicle registration varies widely.
The term classic car is often used synonymously with antique car, but the formal definition of that term has it as applying only to certain specific high-quality vehicles from the pre-World War II era.

25 years is about double the design life of modern cars and an even greater increment on those cars now 25 years old; therefore, a car that's reached 25 is a rare survivor, and probably not economic to maintain as regular transportation.
Owning, restoring and collecting antique cars is a popular hobby worldwide.

Considered as investments
Some consider such collec be a form of investment. Buying a particular antique car is then done primarily in view of profit in a future sale and not of enjoying a drive or taking pleasure in restoration work. As with art collecting, antique car collecting is another form of gambling. The market for antique cars fluctuates wildly over the years. There have been periods, like the 1980s, which have seen strong and continued increase in price, but other periods (e.g. the early 1990s) which saw precipitous declines.

Experts in antique cars such as Jay Leno give the same advice as serious art dealers and professionals in the antiques trade: Collect what you can enjoy above all because the future monetary value of any craft or art object is completely unpredictable. Still, the other opinion and plan exists: Person's living in naturally dry areas such the South Western Desert region, can approach this as a potential long term investment, due to the lesser chance of destruction of the bodies by rusting. One strategy, requires that you buy a car that is in good condition with original paint and chrome in good order. It should be purchased for less than $500 in good running condition, with no broken glass and low mileage. The car should be at least 20 years old.

This seems to be the time when the value of the car "bottoms out". A person needs to have at least 20 of these $500 cars. Parked on blocks, with the glass masked to prevent wind/sand damage. No more than $100 per car per year should go to provide the outdoor storage in the first year. The cars should be started up once every 3 months. 20 cars would cost $2000 the first year in storage. By waiting 20 years, the cars might be worth in adjusted dollars, 20 times or more than when parked. Constant dollar $500 cars might become constant dollar $10,000 cars after 20 years, if long term trends continue... as 99.9% of the same models will be junked, under all normal uses... Rarity is a key basis of value, and the rest is about the innate charm of the car, and its reflection of the era it represents. A 20 fold increase in constant value is much better than most 20 year investments.

As with all collectible antiques, current value is everything to do with current supply vs. demand, and very little else; certainly little to do with the car's price when new or any objective standard. Thus, rare cars that are highly desired are highly expensive, while vehicles that are not fashionable to collect can be very cheap. Condition, of course, influences value. At the present time, the variation in purchase price between a poor condition and good condition vehicle is generally much less than the cost of restoring a poor condition car; thus it is cheaper in the long run to buy the better vehicle.

In some instances, professional restorers can, through economy of scale and performing the work in-house, realise a profit from buying an unrestored car and performing a restoration. This is normally only possible when the car is in high demand and either very rare (e.g. old Ferraris) or quite common (e.g. classic Ford Mustangs). Amateur restorers who are highly skilled may find it cheaper to restore than buy in good condition, but this is through considering their labor enjoyment rather than a cost.

Realising much long-term profit in owning an antique car is mostly about attempting to anticipate future changes in taste, which is highly speculative. Most cars go through a period of being considered merely old and undesirable before becoming valuable, and a car bought then might drastically increase in value. However, a car is a large object that is expensive to store and must be maintained, which cuts into such profits.


Brass Era car

The automotive Brass Era is the first period of automotive manufacturing, named for the prominent brass fittings used during this time for such things as lights and radiators. It extends from the first commercial automobiles marketed in the 1890s down to about World War I. These cars are also often called by the name they were originally known by, "horseless carriages."
In the United Kingdom, this era is split into two periods:
Pre-1905 vehicles are veteran cars
1905–1918 vehicles are Edwardian cars.
Such very old vehicles present special challenges to today's collectors. Replacement parts must nearly always be handmade and basic documentation such as wiring diagrams and specification sheets are often nonexistent. The huge variety of companies and technologies represented during this formative period is also a complicating factor—it has been estimated that there were well over 1,000 manufacturers in the U.S. alone.
Neverthess, an active collector community exists for these vehicles, which when well restored can be extremely valuable. The very, very rare original-condition survivor can be even more so.
The early Ford Model T is an example of a Brass Era car for the mass market, and the early European Hispano-Suiza models are fairly typical of expensive models of the time.


History of the automobile

Self-powered vehicles were demonstrated as early as 1769. 1885 marked the introduction of gasoline powered internal combustion engines. Automotive history is generally divided into a number of eras based on the major design and technology shifts.
Eras of Invention

1895 Benz Velo - introduced ten years after the first patented Benz automobile of 1885
Steam-powered self propelled vehicles were devised in the late 17th century. A Flemish priest, Ferdinand Verbiest, demonstrated in 1678 a small steam car. The car was made for the Chinese emperor. Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot successfully demonstrated such a vehicle on a real scale as early as 1769. Cugnot's invention initially saw little application in his native France, and the center of innovation passed to Great Britain, where Richard Trevithick was running a steam-carriage in 1801. Such vehicles were in vogue for a time, and over the next decades such innovations as hand brakes, multi-speed transmissions, and improved speed and steering were developed. Some were commercially successful in providing mass transit, until a backlash against these large speedy vehicles resulted in passing laws that self-propelled vehicles on public roads in the United Kingdom must be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag and blowing a horn. This effectively killed road auto development in the UK for most of the rest of the 19th century, as inventors and engineers shifted their efforts to improvements in railway locomotives. The red flag law was not repealed until 1896.

About 1870, in Vienna, capital of Austria (then, the Austro-Hungarian Empire), inventor Siegfried Marcus put an internal liquid fuel engine on a simple handcart which made him the first man propelling a vehicle by means of gasoline. Today, this car is well known as “The first Marcus Car”. In 1883, Marcus got a patent for a low voltage ignition of the magneto type - in Germany. This design was used for all further engines and, of course, the famous “Second Marcus Car” of 1888/89. This ignition in conjunction with the “rotating brush carburettor” made the “Second Car”'s design very innovative.
The first automobile patent in the United States was granted to Oliver Evans in 1789. Later, in 1804, Evans demonstrated his first successful self-propelled vehicle, which not only was the first automobile in the USA but was also the first amphibious vehicle, as his steam-powered vehicle was able to travel on wheels on land and via a paddle wheel in the water.
Belgian born Etienne Lenoir made a car with an internal combustion engine around 1860, though it was driven by coal-gas. His experiment lasted for 7 miles, but it took him 3 hours; He would have been faster on foot. Lenoir never tried experimenting with cars again. The French claim that a Deboutteville-Delamare was successful, and the French celebrated the 100th birthday of the car in 1984.

It is generally acknowledged that the first automobiles with gasoline powered internal combustion engines were completed almost simultaneously by several German inventors working independently: Karl Benz built his first automobile in 1885 in Mannheim. Benz was granted a patent for his automobile on January 29, 1886 and began the first production of autombiles in 1888. Soon there after, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Stuttgart in 1889 designed a vehicle from scratch to be an automobile rather than a horse carriage fitted with an engine. They also were inventors of the first motor bike in 1886. Much earlier, above mentioned Siegfried Marcus in Vienna built his crude First Car (engine on handcart) around 1870. His Second Car with four seats may have run only in 1888-1889, thus after Benz - and Marcus never applied for a general patent for his liquid-fuel wheelers, only for his Second's ignition. The first four wheel petrol-driven automobiles built in Britain came in Birmingham in 1895 by Frederick William Lanchester who also patented the disc brake.